Sexism in the cult of Disney? Fictitious heroines one limited template? I don’t think so!

When I started writing this blog, I intended it to document our life as a new home educating family and to share some tips and activities about things which have worked for us.  My last post though was a tad – shall we say forthright?  I was passionate about the subject but after having said my bit, I was planning to go back to sharing some of the fun things Jasper and I have been up to.

But then I read an article which appeared in the Daily Telegraph yesterday, entitled ‘I’d happily blow the brains out of a Disney Princess’ written by Beverley Turner.  There are a lot of really valid points in the article; you can read it here but if you haven’t, the gist of the bit that drove me mad is essentially this:

The author fumes that ‘the cult of Disney’ brainwashes children into believing that women should do no more than wait around, doe-eyed and pathetic, for a charming Prince to come along and rescue them from whatever perilous circumstances they happen to find themselves in.  She argues that we should have more true-to-life characters because most women “prefer to do more than wait to marry a Prince, in a size 8 dress with hair down to their waist” and that the Disney princess image is damaging to young girls as it teaches them that they need to be aesthetically perfect and can’t do anything without a man.

Oh come on.

Firstly, I’m not at all convinced that Disney Princesses are the distressed damsels Beverley Turner seems to think.  Yes, they do seem to be motivated (at least in part) by the desire to marry a handsome Prince, but very few seem to sit around waiting for this to happen or indeed to be rescued.  I said very few, not none before you shoot me down.  They know what they want and they go after it, navigating treacherous paths and any number of obstacles on their way.

Let’s take Princess Jasmine.  As the daughter of a Sultan she is expected, under obligation in fact, to marry a Prince.  Yet all the ones she meets are arrogant fools who treat her as nothing more than a “prize to be won.” Refusing to buy into that idea, Jasmine defies the system and decides she’s going to marry for love.  Fragile maiden I think not.

Then there’s Ariel.  Again, yes I know she’s after a bloke, but he’s not exactly attainable.  Does this put her off?  Of course it doesn’t.  She’s prepared to leave her home, literally travel across the ocean and change her whole world to get what she wants.  Now the usual argument here is that yet again, a woman is made to change who she is for a man, but I really don’t see it like that.  I think you’ve got to have a hell of a lot about you to be prepared to give up all you’ve ever known and venture into unknown territories without even a guarantee that the one you want will love you back.

Belle refuses to marry Gaston despite all the girls in the town thinking he’s a catch because she wants something more and she’s prepared to give up her liberty to protect her father.

Now, I don’t have daughters.  But if I did, I’d be quite happy for them to look up to these girls as heroines.

Secondly, let’s look at the skinny thing.  I think there’s confusion about the effect generally size 0 women, and the way they are portrayed in the media, have on young girls.  To me, the problem is this.  It isn’t that there are skinny women in magazines and as celebrities.  If that’s a problem, that says more about our parenting – if our girls can’t see someone with an apparently near perfect body without suffering a huge knock to their confidence, we need to helping them develop their self esteem more.  If we get into the realm of banning and dictating to publications because we don’t like what they put on their covers, we’re in dangerous territory.  The problem arise when these women pretend that they don’t have to work hard to maintain their figures; when we show zoomed in pictures of their invisible rolls of fat when they bend over on the beach or claim that they have “ballooned to a size 10” and wonder whether this will affect the quality of their work.  The most worrying though is when we airbrush women so that they are flawless without making it clear to young readers that this has happened.  Magazines need to sell copies.  Fact.  So yes, they want something on the cover that looks good.  The damage comes when we make women look almost 2d and then let them claim that they “eat what they want” and can still be slim.  That’s damaging.  A confident, articulate Disney Princess who happens to be slim, isn’t.

I happened to see Kimberley Walsh on Lorraine this morning and she summed it up perfectly for me.  Talking about her style and body confidence, she said this:  “I do think women have to work hard to keep a good body shape.  I do work out a bit but I like food and like to eat what I want.”  She admitted that despite her enviable figure, she has days when she doesn’t feel confident.  Just like the rest of us.  It’s all about, she states, being confident in yourself and knowing what suits you and your body shape.

Beverley Turner mentions the fit, athletic women who inspired young girls as part of the Olympic games.  She talks about achievement.  Isn’t defying the system to marry for love an achievement?  Or being prepared to risk death to save your family?

Of course there are subtle messages in Disney films.  Disney is a huge corporation and we need to be careful about the messages such a powerful company is able to send out to our children.  Sometimes though, I think we should just let things be what they are.  And the films in which our Disney Princesses appear are just this: Fun-filled fairy tale adventures enjoyed by children for generations.

And Beverley?  Blowing the brains out of characters you don’t happen to like?  Great message to our daughters.

Women of the world unite? No thanks. My response to the Blogfest feminism debate.

I don’t know what I expected from Blogfest yesterday.  But it certainly wasn’t what I thought it would be.  I arrived at King’s place to a room packed full of influential women (and some men).  Women who have a voice and are not afraid to use it.  Intelligent women, strong women.  The high profile panelists and sponsors were a symbol of how far women have come and it was empowering to see the power that ‘Mummy-bloggers’ (but let’s not restart that discussion) have online.

Every session I attended was thought-provoking, insightful, useful.  The day ran seamlessly from start to finish.  From the debate about online abuse, to the most effective way to harness social media.  The delicious food and sumptuous cocktails, to the blog clinic and the writing tips from possibly the most informed panel of writers anyone could have hoped to see.

But we let ourselves down at the end.

The question ‘Can you be a mummy-blogger and still be a feminist?’ was always going to be controversial.  I think it’s safe to say, it was designed to be and yes, a lot of what the panel had to say was insulting – at best, but it was our response that I thought was most disappointing.  The twitter feed had to be taken down because it was too distracting for an audience of the intelligent women I mentioned earlier.  Eventually the whole thing descended almost into anarchy and the panel essentially shuffled off the stage before Jo Brand came on to rescue things. 

Everyone has a voice and we have a responsibility to use that voice.  Whatever sector we work in, whatever we choose to do, we have a responsibility.  It could be teaching our children that they can make a difference and that what they say really matters.  It could be arguing with the council that we need more parks; influencing multi-national corporations; even convincing the person to whom you’ve been on hold for 45 minutes that actually you are a valued customer and you do have the right to be heard. 

The point is it doesn’t matter. 

We are all influential in our own circle.  And if we’re not, we need to make sure we are.  I know it isn’t as simple as that, I’m ignoring many complex issues obviously.  I know there are glass ceilings and, to paraphrase a wonderful blogger in the audience at feminism debate , we live in a country where success is measured by wealth and earnings.  When you give up work to have and stay with your children, you necessarily lose that and it can be very difficult to find your voice let alone have it be respected. 

But we still can drive change.  We can teach our children to be good online and “real-world” citizens; we can show our children that women are equal to men; we are raising the next generation of world leaders.  If we sit and complain about how women have it tough and that they’re not taken seriously, that’s the message we’re giving out. 

In business, if our only concern is to get to the top, if we trample over everyone with our very non-feminist (ha!) high-heels, then we are perpetuating the view that career women are heartless bitches.  But what we really need to do is this.  If we want women to be (as they should be) thought of as equal to men then we need to stop this bickering, this judging, this petty-girly-back-stabbing because the ones who are holding women back in their fight for equality isn’t the men we complain about.  It’s us.  The women.

And to me that’s the issue.    I can’t work out whether Sarah Ditum was suggesting women can’t be “competent mothers” if they don’t go to university or not – I have heard there was a problem with the sound.  The sound of a shouting audience perhaps?  But so what if she thinks that?  If she does, she’s a pillock.  End of.  It isn’t insulting to women who didn’t go to university, it shouldn’t be taken as a step-back to women generally.  It’s her opinion.  As an individual. 

And, correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought that was the whole point of feminism in the first place?  For women not to be pigeon-holed and forced into one role or another.  For them to have a right to choose.  And by saying they can’t wear high-heels, they must not make jam (God-forbid) and absolutely must go to University and hate men is just forcing them into another box.

Feminism should be about women having the right to do what they want and choose to do. To have children and not be made to feel worthless; to be high-flying at work; to look like shit one day but a totally glamorous babe the next.  Every decision we make, whether good or bad, shouldn’t be affecting other women.  If a man does something wrong, whether heinously or not, we call him for what he is.  As an individual.  If a woman does, she’s doing woman-kind a massive disservice.  Whatever her point, Sarah Ditum was expressing her right to free-speech.  As an individual.  And our screeching, hysterical response was, quite frankly, a joke.   Women can’t park, women can’t drive, women can’t play football, play poker, have an intelligent conversation or heated debate without becoming emotional. Judge, judge, judge.  Blah-bah-blah.

Do you know what though?  I’ve very rarely heard this said by a man.  I know there are misogynists out there, too many of them, and I know that they seem to be the ones in power.  We cite David Cameron’s ‘Calm-down dear’ line  all the time as a prime example of this but having heard a lot of what else he has to say (regardless of his political agenda) I genuinely don’t think he is.  It was a stupid thing to say, certainly.  A very misjudged comment that has got him into a lot of hot water, at least as far as our perception of him is concerned.  But was it really an example of misogyny?  I don’t think so. 

It’s women who are more damaging.  We can’t do anything without fear of what our ‘sisters’ will think of us.  And it isn’t even just about giving women the right to be as, and I use this term very loosely, powerful as men.  Our friend looks nice, we tell her so.  But then comes the judgement.  She’s lost weight because she fannies around with herself instead of looking after her children.  Her hair has obviously been highlighted by a top stylist.  Shouldn’t she have been playing with her toddler?  She’s been promoted.  Bitch must be sleeping with the boss. She doesn’t spend any time with her family anyway, why does she bother having them? 

It’s pathetic ladies.

So I say this.  I’m not a feminist and I’m proud of it.

The feminists can shoot me down and quite frankly, I couldn’t care less.  I will continue to do what I think is best, for me and for my family. Not for the feminists, not for the women who scream and shout, not for the friend who will criticise me or my choices for being against woman-kind.  In the words of Jo Brand in her key-note speech, I will go forth “with a sense of righteous indignation.”but as myself.  As an individual.